Abstract

How does the productivity of a commune compare with that of a conventional firm? This paper addresses this question quantitatively by focusing on the history of a religious commune called the United Society of Believers, better known as the Shakers. We utilize the information recorded in the enumeration schedules of the US Manufacturing and Agriculture Censuses, available for the period between 1850 to 1880, to estimate the productivities of Shaker shops and farms. From the same data source, we also construct random samples of other shops and farms and estimate their productivities for comparison with the Shakers. Our results provide support to the contention that communes need not always suffer from reduced productivity. Shaker farms and shops generally performed just as productively as their neighbors; when differences did exist between their productivities, there are good reasons to attribute them to factors other than organizational form.

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